Speedlights, TTL exposure, and Modifiers

My first 10 things you can do with a speedlight workshop disaster was entirely attributed to shoving 85lbs of camera gear into one of those little Domke F-803 bags. Remedy; Split the workshop up into a series of easy to swallow 2 to 3 hour sessions that build on each other (hopefully). I just wrapped up the last of those sessions in the Speedlight Series on my first batch of victims. There are definitely things I’m going to change but most of that first edition is staying. The biggest challenge is forcing participants to fine-tune rather tha just using what I setup or more accurately left sitting there as the last version of a setup.

I have some new ideas to force the fine-tuning, change it up, try different ratios, different blends of strobe/ambient, etc. The thing I’m not going to change is my backwards way of presenting exposure control. The first two sessions I demonstrate manual exposure control for both ambient and speedlights. Only in the third and final session is TTL exposure control introduced for the speedlights along with thoughts on why and a few tricks on the “how”.

During that concluding session just wrapped up I tried an attempt at forcing experimentation, fine tuning, and changing things around that was combined with the whole notion of why TTL — convenience and speed. I set up lights wrong and used inappropriate ratios for the matter at hand. I then proceeded to get to a different (better place depending on how you look at things) finally I went back to “wrong”, doing things I would never do for the intent of a particular setup. Guess what happened… Still no dice. Well, not as much participant fine-tuning as I would have like to have seen. I’m an ardent believer that doing is far different from mere academic understanding. Oh well, I have some additional schemes the next time around.

Why TTL flash control? In my world it’s for speed, flow, working alone without an assistant, and convenience of fine tuning results. I demonstrated this by using two speedlights. One behind with a modifier to narrow it and control spill — snoot, grid, barndoors — I forget. The other speedlight was in front with a shoot-thru umbrella on a stand. I started way too high and way too far away and way too much from one side. As with most situations like this that stand w/ umbrella was within arms reach. Without a lot of fuss I proceeded to grab the stand and jerk it to and fro, back and forth while I was taking pictures with the other hand. Ta…Da…, no muss, no fuss, fine tuning lighting direction and distance on the fly without having to reset power levels.

The entire 2 minute demonstration of fast and loose one handed re-setting of the main light, one handed shooting, alternately holding a reflector in various positions, was accompanied with a long list of I wouldn’t do this, instead I would do that, or if I did this I would use a reflector like so… etc. etc. w Wrapping up the quick and dirty demonstration, the main light was back at too high, too far, too much from the side. At that point everyone else took a turn one by one. Results? Hmmmm, not as much fine tuning as I would have liked to see but I shut the hell up for the most part. I did have to say; “You might want to try some variations on that” a couple of times which usually provoked nothing near my intent. I’ll figure that part out.

Something interesting did come out of that though. A shot or two of extremely wrong and funky test/demo shots I would never do based on the intent I kinda sorta like. Not the image as a whole but a few of the elements that are going on. Some things I’m actually going to put in a box of stuff for anther day on another project, with a different intent.

The shot at the top is one such demo of wrong-ness that has a few intriguing elements that are floating my boat. Let’s count up the ”I never do this” inventory:

  • Never would I shoot a headshot this tight with a 50mm on FX. Not with Carly and her features.
  • Never ever would I shoot this high of a lighting ratio, light this high and pure rembrandt. Not for a tight headshot. More of a full-length fashion setup maybe.
  • I would definitely dump tons of fill in if for some reason I was nuts enough to do a female close-up like this.
  • If I were serious, I would use either one of those IR only triggers even if doing TTL as opposed to the built-in flash as a master. Even with it “off” you’ll still get that pin-prick of reflection in anything reflective like eyes (also mentioned how much I hate that and would spot it out — left it in for illustration and laziness)
  • Would tone down the sharp edge light on the shadow side by a stop and a half or two. It will still show up because that side’s going towards black anyway. Anything is going to have shitloads of contrast against almost black.

Funny part is that I actually said all this, and corrected each in 6 differing ways from paramount light to silver reflector, to messing with the exposure comp on the rim light. What I didn’t say was…

  • I just show up and shoot but I would never have that whimpy skinny-ass bullshit chain/pendant screwing with my ability to frame.
  • I would grab a hair stylist and get rid of all those fly-aways with any rim light.
  • I hate that fabric.
  • The rest of the 1,000 things that go through my head when shooting.

Whatever, there are some interesting things about all this stuff I would never do I’m actually going to do in a different context. I guess the good thing was participants did actually see what the word close really means when talking about lights and modifiers like shoot-thru umbrellas. Too bad all of them had pieces of umbrella in frame I could see flashing up on auto-chimp screens. Yes, I mentioned that too. I guess the heat of the moment causes instant reversion. A few tru-isms to consider from all this. Try stuff that ”doesn’t work” worst case it will spark ideas to build on — even if you do this a lot. Two, you have to actually spend time making pictures so that all of the academic stuff that get’s said and understood just happens.


Ps. D600, 50mm 1.4G, 2xSB800’s, crappy shoot-thru umbrella, VSCO film03 Fuji 100c+

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